Thursday, September 23, 2021

Northern Star - Apophenia - call for papers

 Dear friends and readers, I have the pleasure to extend the invitation for a symposium at Nord University, Bodø, December 9-10th 2021. More details will follow as we learn how many will participate.

NOTE concerning extensions:  since this clashes with DiGRA2022 deadline: I am not going to formally extend the date, but if you send me an email letting me know you want to submit, but need more time, I will extend it to October 18th. Why do I do it like this? I need to, as soon as possible, have some kind of idea about the interest for this symposium for the internal planning, and to know you will submit is very helpful at that point. The actual selection process will not start until the 18th, but there are some practical decisions that need to be taken as soon as possible.


Northern Star Symposium: Apophenia 

Apophenia is the sense of seeing patterns where there are none. It is why you feel like it always rains when you travel, and may also be why an angry mob thought fragmented messages from the anonymous stranger “Q” meant the US election was invalid. It is what makes open world games so inviting to player interpretation, but also why they break, as apophenia will leave players chasing clues that don’t lead anywhere. 

 For this first Northern Star symposium at Nord University in Bodø, December 9th and 10th 2021, we invite participants to present reflections, abstracts and work in progress that relate to pattern recognition in texts and online behaviour. The main focus is on how we see patterns, interpret and mis-interpret them, with examples from media, social media, games; digital and analogue, and networks. This can include, but is not limited to, fake news, conspiracy theories, worldbuilding, social networks, big data and methods (errors and over-interpretation), fiction, and religion. 

 How to participate: Email: torillDOTmortensenATnordDOTno, use APOPHENIA in the subject field. 

Deadline: October 15th 2021. Decision: October 22nd 2021. Include a no more than one page description (500 words) of what you want to do. Options are: 

Reflections: This is a flight of fancy, a description of potential ideas and connections that the concept Apophenia fosters. 

Abstract: This is a summary of a relevant research project you have done, and which you would like to present to the others. 

Work in progress: This is a work you would like feedback on. You will get an opponent, and be asked to oppose the work of another person. 

Selection process: Participants for this inaugural Northern Star symposium will be selected based on received description of the project up to 500 words. For this first Northern Star symposium the program committee members are Torill Mortensen (organizer), Lisbeth Klastrup, IT University of Copenhagen, Tanja Sihvonen, Vasaa University and Susana Tosca, Roskilde University. Submissions will be curated by the program committee and the Nord University journalism faculty. 

Place: Nord University, Bodø. Venue to be announced. 

Online? If it is still/again impossible to travel, the two keynotes will be streamed, and there will be a town hall meeting where we discuss what we would like to do next year. Also, all the submissions will be collected and distributed to the other participants, before the virtual town hall. The symposium itself will not move online.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Go north!

 I have gone north. This update comes to you from just north of the polar circle, Nord University in Bodø. If you need to google that, you are not alone. Until a few years ago, Nord University Bodø was Bodø University College, along the same lines and Volda University College, where I worked for 19 years. It is a small, messy place which has grown in different direction based on interest, need, politics, convenience and opportunities. There is no clear plan that can be easily identified from the outside, and while there is a strong profile, it is as much forced by geography (arctic, local, indigenous) as designed. These small universities in the Norwegian periphery grow from the inside, based on necessity and possibility, rather than from the outside, based on grand visions and planning. They are the medieval city center rather than the renaissance park of educations.

Being here feels like coming home, but at the same time, I left that renaissance park behind. As I step in under the low ceilings of the 80-ies architecture, climb the red brick stairs and settle between the light yellow walls, I miss the steel and glass of ITU, the flights of fancy dominating the atrium instead of the snug warmth of the offices. However, here people can speak to each other. The Norwegian habit of bringing your own lunch means most are settling down around the same table unpacking their sandwiches of dark bread, having homegrown vegetables and sharing homegrown fruit. The directness that feels like such an alien thing when I speak to my colleagues at ITU is the norm here, with sharp jokes, insolent comments and quick teasing, with everybody unapologetically getting into all business being revealed in the open. This is Norway too - if you are a stranger, you are shielded, but if you are in, you are in for it all, every impulsive thought played out for better or for worse. I had forgotten I missed this, the language letting me be quick and sharp back without slowing down to shape the words carefully to be understood, the body language so easy to read, the actions and habits to easy and normal.

Things may still change. Whether I stay north or go back south depends on a range of circumstances falling into place. The main reason I am here is to be in Norway, with my husband and children, and not trapped at the other side of a border, our visits determined by quarantine laws, not desire to be together. But as for now, I am planning for a future in Bodø, building a master in journalism and strategic communication, and this place being as open to opportunity and invention as it is, I am building the education I really want to offer. It will be exiting to see it play out.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Feminine values

Since it is March 8th 2021, the first thing I want to do is congratulate all the girls and women out there. Congratulations. We have made it through another year. I am not going to say the last year has been all about progress: this year has cast a harsh light on inequality, gender, race, and class. The pandemic has underlined how easily small differences and cultural expectations can have huge consequences. So if you feel this year didn't really bring us all a step closer to a free and equal society - I don't know how history will judge, but seen from this spot all alone in front of my computer, I can tell you I both understand, know and feel that this year has been hard. 

 When that is said, I found something beautiful this year. Those of you who know me know that I knit. I have always knitted a bit, I focus more easily with a knitting project in my hands. It keeps me from falling asleep while watching television, it helps me listen more closely in lectures, and I have to admit I have a few socks created during conferences. I normally have a pair of socks going - we can never have too many, right? - normally very simple ones, no pattern, just a nice colour-changing yarn. However, once in a while, when I find a lovely pattern, I do other things, although mostly sweaters with traditional, Scandinavian yokes. I love the stranded colourwork and the intricate decreases coming together to create a soft, warm embrace. And when the pandemic isolated us all at home I pulled out my yarn and needles and started knitting.

First, I finished this project, which I had started just days before the lockdown, using scrap yarn from a failed project. It is not fully as large as it should be, but large enough, and it is the Peacock Feather Shawl by Lyudmila Aksenik. Then I worked my way through other projects: a sweater I had started the summer of 2019 (Tiril Snøkrystall Pullover by Tiril Eckhoff), a vest my family had bought as a kit (Duet Vest by Hanne Falkenberg) and which had moved slow due to the very complex construction, until I started ordering yarn for other projects. Soon, during 2020, I had knitted six sweaters, four of them for adults, four shawls, four cowls, and an unknown number of socks and caps. To give you an idea of what this meant: My normal speed, if I don't try, is a sweater a year. This was something like 10 years of production in as many months.

This is not to brag about my speed though, because this maniacal knitting was not a sign of health, but a coping mechanism for stress. And I soon started to see that others used knitting in the same manner. All around me, people shared their knitting projects, and on the websites where I followed knitters, mainly, but also in groups on Facebook and on Instagram, I soon found that people used knitting to respond to the pandemic in different ways.

Knitting has a long history of political activism, and so the response of patterns designed to respond to the pandemic were not surprising. These patterns were interesting though: they were not mainly about making a statement, but about expressing longing and connection. They were extremely intricate and time-consuming, and often came with a lot of individual support from the designers to the knitters that chose to knit them, for instance in the shape of knit-alongs (KALs): online timed work sharing with pictures, chats and Q&As, sometimes with gifts.

KALs are not something new with the pandemic, but the way people talked about them was interesting. It was clear that there is a real connection in sharing your work, and it was less important to be perfect than to share the progress. And soon I was looking at hour-long youtube videos often called "podcasts", where the important thing was not the amount of information shared, but the sharing of togetherness. These podcasts, mostly ran by women, but also some men, are - and this is where we get to the title - celebrations of everything we have so far understood as feminine values. They are recorded in very domestic settings, often either framed by the tools of the craft - in front of shelves packed with yarn, a swift and a ball winder - or in some cozy position with a fireplace, plants, pets, pictures on the walls or examples of thread craft (embroidery, weaving, knitting, crocheting) on the walls or draped around the person speaking. A few candles or electric candles are good too, and add to that a cup of something warm to drink.
Slumber Shawl by Stephen West.

The podcast itself frequently expresses tactility - the touching of yarn, skeins and balls, or knitted results, hugging them, cuddling them, holding them up to the face, while speaking about their softness or firmness, depending on the desired result. Then they express industry. There is always a work in progress and one or more finished works to show off. Since that is the main event, not surprising, but during this there is often a story about who this is for. And this leads us to the next part of what these videos express: connectedness. The people in these networks are extremely good at acknowledging each other. Not just mentioning designers or producers - that is very important and is often underlined with added comments after the fact - but also speaking of videos they have watched, live-streams they have participated in, Instagram, Facebook or Ravelry pictures they have seen, and comments they have received. A lot of the hour these videos often last is filled with this kind of net-work, where they make sure to mention names and demonstrate connectedness. And that is before they start sending each other presents. There is a constant stream of little gifts between these crafters, they send and receive patterns online, but also physical gifts like wool, needles, blockers, little markers, and finished works.

There are other expressions of connectedness. One of the crafters will invite you to a live-stream to sit down and eat with him. Another made a video where you would not see him, but his knitting, seen from his point of view. One will take you on little outings to visit other knitters, and another takes you out on her farm to see her sheep that produce her wool, letting you connect with the original producer, so to speak. Others post memories of times when they could get together, videos from past seminars, festivals and courses. But common for all of this is that I am so far not seeing anything but invitations to participate. The people who comment on each others objects - even some of the eye-searingly ugly scrap-yarn objects designed through random selection and decades of questionable taste - are nothing but inclusive. An incredibly ugly thing gets complimented for the amount of work going into it, or questioned about the sophisticated technique. Something clearly useless is complimented for its inventiveness, and the boring but useful gets lots of praise for its practicality. 

I am aware that being unfailingly inclusive and sweet is not a typical value for women, we can be as sharp and judgemental as anybody, but society has assigned this connection work to women, and it is wonderful to see it play out, particularly at this time when we really need to maintain connections!

So here is the recommendation I want to make on the women's day of 2021: Nurture the feminine values in your everyday life. Find the side of yourself that understands how to connect - it can be over a car engine, sports, cooking or whatnot - and reach out to others. Leave some positive, friendly comments. Touch your favourite tool and tell us why it is the best there is. Let others like you know its story, where you got it, who else have used it, and what it is used for. Connect with the physical world and share it in the virtual. Understand connectedness. It is the feminine value that will let us come out of this sane.